Sunday, 15 September 2013

I blame Gordon Brown

Kinda-ish. Him making the Bank of England independent in 1997 is normally viewed as having been an unquestionably good thing. You could argue, well I’m going to anyway, that it actually made a notable, if indirect contribution to the credit crunch in Britain. Here’s why.

Banks regularly run stress tests. These set out stressful scenarios wherein property prices fall, inflation rises, the economy goes into recession and so on, the point being to develop a sense of what all of these things would do to a bank’s profitability, capital and liquidity. This in turn should inform how much capital a bank needs to hold just in case.

The most demanding stress test used to be the 1 in 20, which looked back over the previous 20 years (or what was regarded as being 3 to 4 business cycles), then used the experience of the worst ever period during that time to set the test parameters.

Before 2007 this meant 1987 to 93 when Canary Wharf first boomed/bust and Britain had its Black Wednesday. The primary cause of this feck up was the exchange rate mechanism experiment when the Tories used what eventually became crucifyingly high interest rates to hold the pound at an artificially high level. Then George Soros bet against the pound and won.

Given this experience, the subsequent decision to make the Bank of England independent and take the politics out of monetary policy made and makes perfect sense. Except, doing so fed directly into the NICE (Non-Inflationary Constant Expansion) decade that followed or what retrospectively looks more, in economic policy terms, like the “Great Complacency” as when schumcks started claiming to have conquered boom and bust.

Going back to the stress tests i.e. what bankers used/use to identify the risks that should be keeping them up at night, the biggest stresses they used to be institutionally aware of – destructively high interest rates and an over-valued pound - were both politically determined and as such  no longer options, the Bank of England was independent and increasingly transparent after all i.e. finance could be confident politicians were no longer in a position to do anything daft. However, this change also meant it simply wasn’t clear what the actual risks or triggers were or could be. In this environment confidence became hubris, which in turn begat a bubble that became a crash (to be fair historically low interest rates helped here as did the FSA, which was utterly rank rotten incompetent shite too).

I reckon we’re still suffering from a broader, complacency hangover due to the Bank of England’s independence when it comes to the broad understanding of economic policy. The interest taken in Mark Carney’s appointment, his supposed superstar status and notions of him being here to save the British economy distract from how (a) the Bank of England has already done pretty much all it can and then some, (b) economic policy is about monetary policy AND fiscal policy and (c) by focusing on a pretty technocrat, we ignore the reality, which is political dogma is alive and well and actively – via fiscal austerity – influencing economic policy in ways that are actively undermining Britain’s short, medium and long-term economic prospects.

The question isn’t can Mark Carney save the British economy, his primary purpose after all is nothing more than to keep consumer price inflation as close to 2% p.a. as possible, rather its why are George Osborne and the ConDems doing so much to undermine it?

No comments:

Post a Comment